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325Bishop asking that church's same-sex union prohibition be dropped

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  • U.M. Cornet
    Oct 6, 1999
    • 0 Attachment
      Bishop asking that church's same-sex union prohibition be dropped

      Oct. 5, 1999 News media contact: Thomas S..
      McAnally*(615)742-5470*Nashville, Tenn.

      NOTE: A photo of Bishop Jack M. Tuell and a General Conference logo are
      available for use with this story..


      By United Methodist News Service

      United Methodist Bishop Jack Tuell is petitioning the church's top
      legislative body to remove a statement from the Social Principles
      prohibiting United Methodist clergy from presiding over same-sex unions or
      having such ceremonies in the denomination's churches.

      "I believe United Methodist ministers who are appointed to a variety of
      situations should have the right to determine the spiritual and pastoral
      needs of people whom they serve," Tuell told United Methodist News Service.

      At the same time, he is proposing a new statement in the Social Principles
      that would reiterate the United Methodist position that marriage is a sacred
      union between two people of the opposite sex. He also supports limiting the
      terms "marriage" and "wedding" to the traditional understandings. The Social
      Principles are contained in the denomination's Book of Discipline..

      Tuell, a former attorney, presided over a high-profile church trial in March
      in which the Rev. Gregory Dell of Chicago became the first clergyman
      convicted of disobeying the order and discipline of the church for
      performing a union ceremony for two men. Dell's conviction was later upheld
      by a North Central Jurisdiction appeals committee, but his suspension was
      adjusted to about one year -- July 5, 1999, to June 30, 2000. Dell was
      elected a delegate to the May 2-12 General Conference in Cleveland by his
      Northern Illinois Annual (regional) Conference, but he will be unable to
      serve because of his suspension..

      Delegates to the most recent General Conference in 1996 added to the
      church's Social Principles (Paragraph 65C) the sentence, "Ceremonies that
      celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and
      shall not be conducted in our churches."

      "I am a strong believer in observing and carrying out the law of the church
      as it is accepted by the General Conference, whether I personally agree with
      it or not," said the retired bishop, who resides in Des Moines, Wash. "But
      if United Methodists believe some part of our Book of Discipline should be
      changed, they should express their opinions to the elected representatives
      who write it. I exercised that right by writing a private letter strictly on
      my own to about 60 delegates."

      He expressed concern that a version of his letter distributed on the
      Internet contained an error. The word "not" was deleted from a sentence
      that said: "It is not primarily on whether you are for or against changing
      the present general position of the United Methodist Church regarding
      homosexuality."

      Tuell emphasized that his petition is not suggesting that the only response
      of a clergy person would be to conduct a same-sex union if asked. Recalling
      the Dell trial, he said one of the partners in the same-sex service was
      asked in cross-examination by the counsel for the church what he would have
      done if Dell had declined to perform the service.

      "He said he would have respected that," Tuell said. "I think ministers in
      these situations may have a variety of responses. My point is that I believe
      the clergy need the freedom to weigh the situation and make a decision based
      on their ordination vows as a man or woman of God."

      Tuell has presided over seven clergy trials during his career as bishop. In
      his letter to the delegates, he said: "After two long days of presiding over
      Rev. Dell's trial last March, I was totally convinced that the legislation
      of 1996 was not good legislation and should be changed by the 2000 General
      Conference."

      He then listed seven reasons and concluded: "I truly believe that the
      continuance of the 1996 legislation can have nothing but a destructive and
      divisive effect across the connection, as well-publicized trials are held
      with varying and illogical results. United Methodism does not need this."

      Tuell's reasons for requesting a change are:
      1 "It is not fair to our clergy..
      2 "The 1996 legislation was passed among much confusion and warning
      that the Social Principles was not the right place for such flatly
      prohibitory legislation..
      3 "The legislation is unnecessary. We got along quite well for 212
      years (1784-1996) without it..
      4 "The administration of such a prohibition is bound to be uneven,
      varying with the mores and views of different sections of the church..
      5 "The provisions of Paragraph 65C are likely to hit some of our most
      able, conscientious clergy the hardest..
      6 "The issue in this matter has to do with the freedom and integrity
      of our clergy to carry out their ministry in the place where they are
      appointed..
      7 "United Methodists want their church to be one which upholds the
      centrality and uniqueness of marriage between a man and woman. The 2000
      General Conference ought to reaffirm this in appropriate ways."
      # # #

      NOTE: The full text of Bishop Tuell's letter follows:


      Summer, 1999
      To: Lay and Clergy Delegates to the 2000 General Conference
      From: Bishop Jack M. Tuell (retired)

      First, let me congratulate you on your election to the General Conference of
      The United Methodist Church. This is a high honor, and a position of
      tremendous responsibility. I will be praying for you as we move toward
      Cleveland next May..

      I am taking the rather unusual step of writing this letter because some
      experiences I had this spring made me realize that some legislation enacted
      at the 1996 General Conference is placing some of our clergy in a truly
      unfair dilemma. The experience I refer to was presiding over the church
      trial of the Rev. Gregory Dell -- the legislation under which he was tried
      was an action of the 1996 General Conference adding this sentence to Par.
      65C of the Social Principles: "Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions
      shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our
      churches." (Page 87, 1996 Book of Discipline.)

      After two long days of presiding over Rev. Dell's trial last March, I was
      totally convinced that the legislation of 1996 was not good legislation and
      should be changed by the 2000 General Conference. Here are some of my
      reasons:

      1. It is not fair to our clergy. We send them by appointment into
      communities and congregations which may be made up of 30%-50% gay and
      lesbian persons; we tell them to care for and minister to all of the people
      in their charge. Their people (including gays and lesbians) come to them
      with prayers and blessings of already existing relationships. We have always
      placed great confidence and trust in our clergy to respond to such spiritual
      needs as their consciences and ordination vows indicate. But the 1996
      legislation violates the precious freedom which we have always believed our
      clergy to possess as "men and women of God," and subjects them to being
      "defrocked" for their conscientious adherence to their high calling. This is
      wrong, and should be corrected..

      2. The 1996 legislation was passed among much confusion and warning that the
      Social Principles was not the right place for such flatly prohibitory
      legislation. While it was approved by a vote of 553-321 on Thursday evening
      (DCA, p. 780), less than half an hour later the General Conference
      non-concurred in a petition to specifically make "leadership in a same-sex
      service" a chargeable offense by a vote of 740 for non-concurrence! (DCA, p.
      783). Yet the effect of the legislation which was passed turned out to be
      exactly the same as the measure rejected by the Conference by 740 votes! It
      seems obvious that many delegates thought they were voting for something
      other than adding a chargeable offense when they approved Par. 65C.

      3. The legislation is unnecessary. We got along quite well for 212 years
      (1784-1996) without it. And a conference which really wished to put a
      minister on trial for such an action could do so under already existing
      "chargeable offenses" listed in the Discipline. But history has shown us
      that trying to prohibit specific behaviors by disciplinary edict does not
      work well. (Alcohol, tobacco, etc.)

      4. The administration of such a prohibition (Par. 65C) is bound to be
      uneven, varying with the mores and views of different sections of the
      church..

      5. The provisions of Par. 65C are likely to hit some of our most able,
      conscientious clergy the hardest. The 13 elders on the Trial Court in the
      Gregory Dell case, even though they quite appropriately found him guilty,
      made a separate statement affirming his outstanding ministry of 30 years. We
      cannot afford to lose men and women of this caliber.

      6. The issue in this matter has to do with the freedom and integrity of our
      clergy to carry out their ministry in the place where they are appointed. It
      is not primarily on whether you are for or against changing the present
      general position of the UMC regarding homosexuality. Persons on either side
      of this larger issue should see the unfairness and injustice of sending our
      ministers out to serve all the people and then throwing them out when they
      try to do so.

      7. UMs want their church to be one which upholds the centrality and
      uniqueness of marriage between a man and a woman. The 2000 General
      Conference ought to re-affirm this in appropriate ways. But it should repeal
      the last sentence of Par. 65C which unfairly puts an impossible burden on
      our clergy doing their best to minister to the spiritual and pastoral needs
      of the people committed to their care..

      I truly believe that the continuance of the 1996 legislation can have
      nothing but a destructive and divisive effect across the connection, as
      well-publicized trials are held with varying and illogical results. United
      Methodism does not need this.

      Jack M. Tuell
      Bishop, Retired
      The United Methodist Church
      816 South 216th Street
      Des Moines, WA 98198
      Ph. 206-870-8637
      FX. 206-824-0128

      # # #


      United Methodist News Service
      (615)742-5470
      http://www.umc.org/umns/